Trying to make sense and understand Calvaire isn't easy to do. It's quite honestly like driving through a thick and heavy fog--just as Marc Stevens does at the beginning of the film. You can't see anything, your high beams make it worse and at some point you realize you have no idea where the hell you are. I felt like this throughout the entirety of the film. One minute I'm cruising along, pointing fun at Marc's opening performance and the next---men are sodomizing pigs.
From the mind of Fabrice Du Welz comes this foggy film Calvaire. It follows Marc Stevens, a singer who makes his living by performing for the elderly while wearing a magical cape.
On his way to a Christmas gig, Marc's van breaks down leaving him stranded in the woods. Upon being found by an odd man looking for his dog, Marc is sent to the Inn run by a seemingly nice man named Bartel. Before long, Marc realizes that Bartel is not nice at all. He's crazy! And the rest of the town isn't all that great either... In fact everyone seems to think that Marc is somebody he is very clearly not. Like a woman. A woman with a bad haircut and a bad dress.
On the surface, Calvaire sounds like a typical film about some messed up people living in a small town. I had this fear myself as numerous reviews of it relates it to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Calvaire however is different. Like....really different. So different in fact that some people don't even like to call this film a horror movie. Any serious action doesn't really happen until about an hour in--the gore isn't prominent and something else just feels off. Is it because we have no real sympathy towards Marc's situation? Is it because we get the idea that everyone in this godforsaken town is fucking nuts?
If you tell people you are watching this movie, I guarantee that someone will bring up the dance scene. Put away your expectations and dreams that somewhere in Calvaire lies a Dirty Dancing routine of smiles however because this dance scene is well...strange. A man gets up and plays the piano and two men get up and awkwardly start doing kind of a Leatherface swagger and wave their arms. Then the rest of the men all get up and dance.
It's probably one of the most awkward and magical things that you will ever see. Everyone suddenly looks like they received a lobotomy in the barn out back. And the best part is--this scene has no great relevance to the film.
By its end however, you get the feeling that Calvaire does have something up its sleeve. Some research will lead you into a few distinct territories. The most attainable in my opinion is the idea that there are only two characters in the film; Marc and Bartel. Du Welz talks about this in the commentary as he says that every other character in the film is a version of Bartel. They all want something from Marc. Old ladies want to put his hand on their crotch, sexy nurses want to do him, old men think Marc is their wife and a man believes Marc is his dog. Marc becomes this kind of vacant character, a template for all the other characters to fill with what they want.
Bartel is a sick man, an insane man, and a damaged man. Du Welz also points out in his interview that Bartel is suppose to be who we feel sympathy for. It's an interesting concept and one that Du Welz seems to justify by using Jackie Berroyer's previous film roles. But what about all of us who have never seen that guy before? Does that kind of characterization still apply? To be honest--no. I think I mostly just felt distrust in the face of Bartel. There's something weird about him that we sense almost immediately. Seeing him then later rifle through Marc's truck, and do shady things to his van only keeps that feeling going.
Marc is no better of course as he just seems like a complete and utter douche head. I got a stronger feeling throughout this that we weren't suppose to feel connected to any character. I feel sorry for Marc sure, but the foggy, clouded aura of the film kind of prevents me from really feeling or seeing anything terribly worthwhile of my emotions. Is this the intention? I hope so, because Calvaire is pretty damn bleak in the grand scheme of things.
It's also incredibly short and ends extremely abruptly. And then just when we have Marc's final actions pegged he goes and does something weird, and then we fall back into the confusion.
Like I said, it's a strange film and one that I would love to delve deeper into one day. Some even suggest it holds a wonder of religious meaning--comparing Marc to Jesus, and such and such.
I guess that's acceptable but still--I can't be the only person to notice that Marc was a self-centered, egotistical loser right?
Overall I quite enjoyed Calvaire--I think. There are moments where it seems to end up in places that you don't remember it going to, but then it also has moments of clarity and enticement. It may very well be one of the strangest movie watching experiences I've ever had. It runs slow, ends quickly and people have sex with animals. I don't know what else to tell you. I am being vague for a reason--and oh yeah...Bartel forces Marc to wear a dress.
Let me share what I wrote about CALVAIRE: Breed TEXAS CHAINSAW with STRAW DOGS and CALVAIRE would be their love child. Director Weiz playfully draws inspiration from Hooper and Peckinpah, among others, without apology. It's clearly evident he loves those films, and he shares that love with us. Even so, his vision transcends homage and what emerges is a sophisticated rethinking of themes and storytelling techniques. This French film's subtle, character driven style may be at odds with the way American directors approach the genre, but that's what makes the film so special. Without giving anything away, the film's slow build leads us into a story that inverts CHAINSAW/DOGS expectations; we enter an absurd, surreal world that remains carefully logical, discrete, and motivated. At times its very funny, which is what, I think, makes the film so throughly creepy. Unlike THE COTTAGE, for instance, where "horror" turns comic, CALVAIRE is a comedy that's actually a potent, all out horror film.
I loved this quirky little Belgian flick. How it took its time in getting anywhere served to drive its sense of dread. No spoiler here, but that one scene used the camera to really twist up a dizzying sense of discomfiture. There is one thing that I would love to know. In the old days of witches and such, an ordeal was the name of the techniques used to determine if one was a witch or not. I have to wonder if there is a connection. Great review Andre- keep it up.
Wow! I'll have to add this to my 'must-see' list. This one slipped completely under the radar for me!
I didn't think Calvaire was so much a horror movie as a borderline arthouse film. But I have to be honest: the art didn't connect with me at all. Probably a lot of it was over my head, but I really found it to be not just a mess, but a dull mess at that.
an impressive flick. The piano scene is probably one of the weirdest and creepiest scenes I've ever seen
One of my favorite horror films ever. Completely immersed in the inbred chaos of a psychotic micro community, you are unable to predict ANYTHING, which was a refreshing and welcome change from a lot of its horror flick brethren. I found the unlimited, unpredictable maniacal behavior mesmerizing and since Marc's character is such a prick, you don't feel badly for him....or at least not that much. I thought it was a load of fun.
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